Amber Brooks, Center Back for the OL Reign, fuels her training with grassfed bison.
We get a lot of questions about the health benefits of our 100% Grassfed Bison. How much more protein does it have? What are the health benefits besides being leaner? Does it actually have more Omega-3 fatty acids? Will it help my performance in the gym or on the field? For more on the health benefits, check out this 4-part series on the health benefits of grassfed bison. As for whether or not it will positively affect athletic performance, what you eat does have a huge impact on both how your body performs overall and how you feel. Would you be able to run a marathon if all you ate was pizza, chips, and soda? Maybe. But you probably wouldn’t break any records or feel very good while you were running. On the other hand, if your diet consisted mostly of clean, lean proteins, good fats, and healthy carbs, you might see very different results. Of course, in both cases, how much you train also has a lot to do with the outcome. We recently caught up with Amber Brooks, AKA “Iron Woman, from the OL Reign NWSL team and talked about how her diet affects her training and performance on the team, specifically with regards to grassfed bison.
How did you get into soccer in the first place?
Amber Brooks: I began playing soccer when I was four years old. Soccer was a family sport in that both my parents played at the collegiate level. My mom was actually one of the first women to play on a men’s college soccer team (Ashland University) because Title IX had just passed and there wasn’t a women’s team so they had to allow her to play with the men. My dad also played at LeMoyne College. I have two older brothers who played as well, and being their little sister, I just wanted to do anything and everything that they did! I played a lot of sports until high school; basketball, baseball, track, lacrosse. Soccer is just what stuck best and watching the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final in my living room was one of those “AHA” moments that really made me think, “It would be really cool to play for the US Women’s National Team” one day.
What do you love most about the sport of soccer?
Amber Brooks: What I love about soccer is just competing with my team. Not just on an individual level, as important as it is that I try and win my duels and individual match up every game, I get a special feeling when I’m playing and competing not just for myself but for my teammates as well. Team wins and success feel so much sweeter than anything you achieve by yourself!
Why are you called the “Iron Woman?”
Amber Brooks: Well, since I eat a lot of red meat, bison specifically, I have astronomically high iron levels! Joke, but really that is true. I’ve been described as “Iron Woman” by media in the NWSL because I currently hold the record for the most consecutive minutes played. It’s at nearly 8,000 minutes which is just over 72 games or 3 seasons worth. It’s obviously a record easier to hold as a center back, a position that’s rarely subbed and doesn’t require the highest running mileage in a game, but it still is an impressive achievement and something I am proud of, because it shows that I have a good grasp on my training, recovery, and nutrition habits that enable me to be healthy and perform at a high enough level that my coaches are selecting me to play game in and game out.
How does your diet factor into your training?
Amber Brooks: My diet is vital to my fuel/energy and recovery, so it is a constant focus of mine. As a professional, you are only as valuable as you are available (healthy) and performing well, so I am constantly aiming to either fuel my training and games or recover so I can go again the next day. Along with sleep and hydration, my diet is essential to that cycle to ensure that I’m performing at the highest of levels every day.
Why did you turn to grassfed bison in particular?
Amber Brooks: I know that protein is necessary to help my muscles recover between training sessions and games, and there is tons of protein in bison. Additionally, grassfed bison is a much more nutrient (iron, zinc, b-12) dense meat and a leaner form of protein relative to chicken, turkey, and even beef. Although I’m not a calorie counter, it is an added benefit that bison is less caloric. Plus, I genuinely enjoy that it is more tender than other meats I’ve tried.
How does eating quality meat like grassfed bison help you perform better? Heal better? Feel better?
Amber Brooks: Because grassfed meats like those from The Honest Bison are raised humanely and sustainably on their natural diet, the resulting meat is much healthier and more nutritious than grain fed meat. You are what you eat is true to this degree. There are no antibiotics, growth hormones, or soy in grassfed bison, and the overall fat composition is made up of healthy fats rather than unhealthy saturated fats. The vitamins, antioxidants, and high protein levels help my body stay healthy and my muscles/cartilage get stronger.
Do you follow a certain eating style like the Paleo Diet or the Carnivor Diet?
Amber Brooks: I would say that I eat a diet that is a healthy balance between the Paleo and Carnivore diet! I do not solely eat meat, but I also stray from gluten and don’t eat starches as well (potatoes, rice, pasta). I do eat some GF grains, fruits, and veggies in addition to a large quantity of red meat. I more or less said it above in other answers, but I think eating an overall low inflammation diet has been really beneficial in my overall wellness but also my performance on the field. So much of what professional athletes have to do to be prepared to perform every day is done behind the scenes in the form of nutrition, and I think my individualized diet puts me in a great position to be the best athlete I can be and live a long, healthy, life.
What is your go-to pre-game meal?
Amber Brooks: I actually think the most important meal I eat before a game is dinner the night before. Because our game times fluctuate (anywhere from 10 am to 8 pm), I think the pregame dinner the evening before is where I focus on getting the most fuel for my game the next day. I have a few that I choose from, but in general, it involves either a third-pound of bison, such as a bison burger patty), with wild rice and a vegetable like zucchini or broccolini. I do tend to have a sweet tooth so a little dark chocolate to follow dinner! Sometimes I’ll make a gluten-free lasagna with ground bison, or grill a bison steak if I’m feeling a bit fancier! My favorite cut is Bison New York Strip Steak and I like it cooked medium!
How do you make sure you eat the way you need to on the road?
Amber Brooks: It’s tough! When we were on the road for 2 months straight last year living in a bubble in Missoula and then Salt Lake City for the NWSL Challenge Cup, one of my stressors was my ability to maintain my individualized diet. I’m very fortunate to play for a club that has many players with unique, individualized diets, and they are as accommodating as possible! Sometimes they are able to cater meals and if not, they provide a per diem and, thankfully for UberEats and DoorDash, there are usually a few restaurants near the hotel that have proper meals. It’s not overly hard to eat gluten-free these days, but it is difficult to find restaurants that serve quality grassfed meat when you don’t have a kitchen to cook for yourself. Additionally, I always prepare food beforehand and travel with a generous amount of appropriate snacks so that I never feel panicked and, worst-case scenario, can overload on snacks.
Does your diet change during the off-season?
Amber Brooks: No! Over the course of my career I’ve had about four true offseasons where I wasn’t playing in competitive games for a few months, but the other four years I’ve played abroad in Germany and Australia. I’ve found that even when I’m not playing games on the weekend, I am still training as hard, if not harder and more frequently than when I am in season, so changing my diet is not in my best interest. Consistency is key!
What advice would you give other athletes looking to integrate bison into their diet?
Amber Brooks: I think that it’s important for every athlete to find a diet that best suits their overall genetic makeup and the physical demands of their support. Once you reach a certain level, all athletes are educated on the basics of nutrition, but I think sometimes, especially in a sport like soccer where there are 11 positions on the field, all with different physical demands and body types, it is not advantageous to have every player on the same general diet. It took a few years of trial and error with my diet, adding things, eliminating others, until I felt like I had the right combination of what my body needs to perform best. I grew up eating plenty of meat, but it wasn’t until I began my professional career and starting doing my own research into nutrition that I even heard the phrase grassfed meat or learned the differences in eating different kinds of meat. And growing up on the east coast, I had never seen a bison or knew it was a meat option. I encourage everyone, not just athletes, to educate themselves and look beyond the fad diets and meats to find what works best for you and your body.
Lastly, what advice would you give other women trying to break into the National Women’s Soccer League – or any professional sport?
Amber Brooks: I think my best advice would be to try and develop professional habits as young as possible. Looking back at my playing career, I think if I had known and practiced some of the habits that are routine now (diet, sleep, recovery), then I could be playing at an even higher level than I am now. A lot of girls say they want to play professionally, but their actions, even the little ones, do not add up to what it takes to reach this level. One of my favorite concepts is from James Clear’s “Atomic Habits,” which is that if you focus on getting 1% better every day, there’s a compound effect so that after a year you will actually be 37% better overall. Small habits make a big difference!
Editorial Notes: Amber Brooks is not a paid ambassador for the Honest Bison, however, we do provide her with grassfed bison meat to aid with her training and performance during the season. The training photographs in this article were taken by Seattle area photographer, Jane Gershovic.